Overstressed and overeating: How to solve the two biggest health and fitness problems most women face.

Overstressed and overeating:
How to solve the two biggest health and fitness problems
most women face.

By John Berardi, Ph.D.

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Feeling overworked and underappreciated? Having trouble staying consistent with your nutrition plan? This article is for you.

Putting the needs of others before your own can sometimes feel like it’s just part of the job of being a mother, wife, friend, and family breadwinner.

Based on hearing from thousands of women during the course of our research, we know lots of women actually get energy from helping others. That is, until their energy runs out and they realize they don’t have any left over for themselves.

And slowly, after months or years of neglecting themselves:

  • The jeans that used to fit… feel a little tighter.
  • The sugar and junk food cravings seem much stronger.
  • The exercise classes and gym appointments are postponed, then cancelled.
  • The bathroom mirror and scale are avoided.
  • The stress of yo-yo dieting starts up again.

Some women we talked to compared it to a juggling act: every day they struggle to keep all their balls (commitments) in the air. In the process of putting so much time into caring for others, they end up neglecting themselves.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

After helping thousands of women through our Precision Nutrition Coaching Program, we’ve seen it all—and we know there’s a solution.

You can regain control of your body. You can overcome emotional eating issues. You can show love and appreciation to others while still taking care of yourself.

As the airplane safety video says, you must “put your own oxygen mask on first.”  You can’t take care of others if you’re running out of air yourself.

In this article, we pore through our data on thousands of women to identify the two biggest health-related problems that hold women back from having the body they want. And then we show you how to overcome them.

Problem #1: You have a complicated relationship with food.

At some point in their lives, many women struggle with overeating and use food to help curb negative emotions. Wine, chocolate, sugar, and other sweet treats beckon and promise a momentary relief.

But once the “food rush” wears off, they’re left with the very same emotional problems—plus a self-defeating sense of guilt.

Of course, many women understand that food doesn’t help resolve “negative” emotions like fear, resentment, anger, or stress—but they still find themselves helpless, using sugar or alcohol as a coping mechanism for emotions that feel intolerable.

Without help, some women even develop a food addiction.

But what if, like thousands of our clients, you could step off this merry-go-round of binging and purging?

What most women do when they feel strong negative emotions:

  • Overeat.
  • Feel guilty about overeating.
  • Gain weight.
  • Repeat the cycle.

What you can do to be successful:

  • Break the chain.

Break the chain.

Overeating and food addiction often stem from uncontrolled stress combined with food restriction. If these two factors can be controlled, food addiction might also be controlled.

Dr. Krista Scott-Dixon, curriculum designer and head women’s coach for Precision Nutrition Coaching, has an exercise called “breaking the chain” that she’s used personally and with thousands of clients to help them overcome emotional overeating.

Here’s what she recommends:

“With this exercise, you assume that eating is just the last link in a chain that stretches into your past.

It might feel like you’re hungry now… but is it really hunger?

Maybe you walked past a good-smelling bakery 15 minutes ago and forgot about that. Or maybe something stressful happened this morning. So, link by link, working backwards along the chain of events, start asking yourself questions:

‘What was I doing just now? What was I thinking? Where was I?’

Oftentimes you can uncover the source of negative emotions.”

And what do you do with those negative emotions once you uncover them? You embrace them.  

“If you’re feeling angry or hurt or stressed, give yourself five minutes to be REALLY MAD inside your body,” says Krista.

“Feel the emotion in your body, but try not to over-intellectualize them in your brain. Grit your teeth. Make “grrr” sounds. Squinch your face. Do whatever it takes. And after those five minutes are up, release that ball of anger and let it float away.”

If you ever find yourself struggling with mysterious hunger and feel like you just really want to eat an entire chocolate bar, Krista has a few more tips to help:

  1. Begin by assuming some thought, belief, and/or emotion is driving this urge, even if you don’t yet know what it is.
  2. Look for where your emotions are in your body. “Scan” your body from head to toe, observing any signals or physical feelings you notice.
  3. Observe only. Don’t analyze. Right now you are gathering information.
  4. Wait. Don’t rush to explain things with your immediate response, e.g. “Oh it must be my mother issues because blah blah blah” or “Oh, it must be because I had no protein and only 20 grams of carbs.” If the answer pops up quickly, that’s your brain. Your body is slow and quiet with its signals. You must wait. At least 30 seconds, ideally 60.
  5. Remember that emotions can feel like hunger. Yes, it’s weird. But so is an elephant’s trunk. And Nature has made both of these things possible.
  6. Don’t “should” yourself or rush to judge the feelings. Let them come even though they seem stupid. Just be a little distance away from yourself and observe, like an anthropologist with a clipboard.
  7. If you feel a feeling, ask yourself how the situation you’re in might relate to a perceived threat to your own identity and values. Ask yourself, politely and conversationally, “Oh, OK, that seems important to you? Why?”
  8. When you get a response (again, wait — the body is slow), ask some more. “What’s that all about? Why is that important?” Keep asking, then wait and watch the body’s response. It’s like playing the getting warmer-getting colder game. “Is it this? Hmm, no. Is it that? Ah yes, that seems more significant.”
  9. Give yourself a few minutes to experience whatever emotions you’re experiencing. Check your watch if you need to, and allocate five minutes to this project. Unlike houseplants, ignoring feelings doesn’t make them go away. You might as well turn and face them. Roll around in the mud with the feelings for a few minutes. If you’re sad, cry. If you’re angry, chomp your jaw and growl like a pissed-off baboon. If you’re anxious, run around in circles like Homer Simpson.
  10. Work backwards along the “chain” for more clues. What were you doing just before you felt this? Who was with you? What was happening? What about an hour ago? This morning?
  11. Take 10 deep breaths. Exhale using a slow 5-count. Try to empty your lungs completely. If necessary, release the emotion you’ve been sitting with. Just let it float off, like a soap bubble.
  12. Once you’re done, notice whether your hunger has changed. If so, how? If not, how not?

If you can’t find a private place to do this (e.g. you’re at work, at home with kids running around), sneak off to the bathroom. If you keep the bathroom fan running, nobody will hear you whispering Grrrr!!!!

Of course, if you want some help and guidance with your nutrition—including dealing with emotional overeating—we’d love to coach you. You can learn more about Precision Nutrition Coaching here.

Problem #2: You have a difficult time staying consistent with your diet, exercise, or healthy lifestyle habits.

This is the motherlode of all problems. According to our research, roughly 65% of women (and likely a lot more) struggle with staying consistent.

And it’s not like they’re complete exercise beginners. Here’s what most women have tried before getting results with us:

  • Weight Watchers
  • MyFitnessPal and other calorie counters
  • Jenny Craig and Curves
  • Crossfit and other group workouts
  • Popular diets like paleo, juice fasts, cleanses, and low-carb
  • Workout books and magazine articles

Of course, these aren’t “bad” options. They end up working for some people. But eventually most of these methods and tools begin to break down and fail over time.

Why is that?

It’s because they’re surface solutions. They help solve a surface-level problem.

  • Don’t have a place to exercise? Now you do.
  • Want to track how many calories you eat? Here’s an app to download.
  • What to know the “best” foods to eat? Read this article.

The only problem with surface-level solutions? They only work for a little while.

They don’t account for the ups and downs of everyday life. They don’t adapt to your life. And because of that, they don’t help you stay consistent.

What most women do when they fail to be consistent.

  • Pick another surface solution to follow.

What you can do to be successful:

  • Make yourself accountable to a program.
  • Make yourself accountable to a person.

Make yourself accountable to a program.

Ideally, you want a program that covers a few bases:

  • It’s been tested with lots of people (so you know it actually works).
  • It’s customizable to your lifestyle (so you can stay consistent and do it even when you’re busy).
  • It’s something you actually enjoy doing (who’s going to exercise if it’s not fun?).
  • There’s something big and positive to shoot for (a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow).

The first three are incredibly important; they’re the cornerstone of a solid exercise and nutrition program. But the fourth one—having something big and positive to shoot for—is often overlooked.

In fact, most programs do the opposite: they make you feel guilty and bad for “slacking” or for not being a paragon of health and fitness. But we don’t need any more negativity in our lives, and we’re sure you don’t either.

That’s why we give away $250,000 every year in the Precision Nutrition Coaching Program. It’s just something extra to push for, something to look forward to.

Precision-Nutrition_Coaching-Winner_Female_Jill-Schwartz_Surprise_1
Jill lost 55 pounds in Precision Nutrition Coaching; we surprised her with $25,000.

So how do you know if a certain program will help keep you accountable?

After 15+ years in the fitness industry, we’ve determined the following four things are of the utmost importance:

  • You need a way to measure your progress and track it on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
  • You need to follow a structured plan, but still have room to move at your own speed when needed.
  • You need a daily reminder to practice whichever nutrition, exercise, or lifestyle habit you’re currently working on.
  • You need it to be customizable to your skill levels, goals, and how much time you have available.

That’s what helped our clients achieve results like this:

Make yourself accountable to a person.

This tip isn’t for everyone but it can often make the difference between consistently getting great results or succumbing to the pressures of work, family, and social stress.

Personal accountability is more important than personal motivation for one simple reason: no one always feels motivated to go make healthy eating choices.

But if we’re accountable to another person, we’ll actually follow through with the healthy eating and exercise choices we need to look and feel great. And we’ll do it over and over again even when the going gets tough. (And the going always gets tough at some point.)

That’s why the women who’ve had the most success in changing their bodies made themselves accountable to another person.

It could be a friend or workout partner. It could be your spouse. It could be a local personal trainer or fitness expert. Or if you want to join our first nutrition coaching program of 2016, we’d love to help you too.

The important thing is that you make yourself accountable to somebody and get the help you need. You have a lot on your plate already; why not let someone else show you the way?

What to do next

Have a complicated relationship with food? Then it’s time to “break the chain.” Follow Dr. Krista Scott-Dixon’s suggestions: discover where the urge to overeat is coming from, feel the negative emotion fully, and let it go. It takes practice but it can be done. And the results can be life-changing.

Struggling to stay consistent? So are lots of other women. Ditch the surface solutions and make yourself accountable to a proven program. And if you want to give yourself the opportunity to have the most success, make yourself accountable to a person, too.

Take the first step. Then let us take over.

For most women, getting started is the hardest thing. Figuring out what to do first. Overcoming inertia. Taking that first step into the unknown.

At Precision Nutrition, we know that all too well. We’ve helped thousands of women move from “all or nothing” to “always something.”

But the first step always begins with you. If you’re ready to look, feel, and live better, we’re here to help.

Our final nutrition coaching program of 2016 begins soon. To see how we can help you, click here to learn more details about Precision Nutrition Coaching.

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